In one day, the officials of the Ethiopian Refugee Reception Center in Hamdait, Sudan, found themselves faced with the suicide attempt of an Eritrean refugee and the birth case of an Ethiopian refugee with AIDS, which highlights the challenges facing Sudan, exhausted by the Tigray War.
Hamdait is a border point, about 300 kilometers east of the Sudanese city of Gedaref, at which the borders of Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea meet.
Yaqoub Muhammad Yaqoub, Director of the Hamdayat Reception Center, closely follows the press reports related to the war being waged by the Ethiopian Federal Army on the Tigray region, fearing that the ethnic conflict will turn into a regional war that includes Eritrea.
Yaqoub, whose office was surrounded by dozens of Ethiopian refugees for the purpose of registration, says that if Eritrea directly interferes in the war, Hamdayat will witness an influx of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees together, a scene that entails serious security and humanitarian challenges.
Hamdayat is located on the west bank of the State River, and on the east bank, refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia with their agricultural vehicles and herds of livestock are trying to cross into Sudan via a deep river with a strong current and rugged terrain on its banks.
According to Hark – an Ethiopian refugee in her thirties – her father and siblings are still on the eastern bank of the river with a tractor and dozens of heads of sheep, as there are no ferries that can bear shipment.
The Ethiopian refugee told Al-Jazeera Net that some of the escapees had to leave everything they owned, because “the army of (Ethiopian Prime Minister) Abiy Ahmed intends to liquidate the Tigrayans,” as she put it, while others – including her father and brothers – are still waiting with fear to cross the State.
Refugees from Tigrayans in Hamdayit suffer from the slow registration process inside the temporary camp prepared to receive them, while large groups of them preferred to reside densely in the Hamdayat market due to its smallness and lack of water and sanitation services.
The projections of the tribal conflict in Ethiopia persecute the refugees and those in charge of receiving them. The director of the Hamdayat reception center said that some refugees avoid registering for fear of being deported to the camp of “Umm Rakuba” (about 400 kilometers inside the state of Gedaref), where groups of Amhara have resided since waves of asylum in the 1980s.
With the harbingers of the widening of the fronts of fighting and insecurity, there are increasing fears of the asylum of other nationalities than Tigrayans, as the Hamdayat Center recorded limited entry to the Amhara, in addition to reports of Ethiopians crossing in the states of Sennar and Blue Nile south of Gedaref, where 4 Ethiopian regions border Sudan from the north to the south: the Tigray And Amhara, Beni Shangol Qomez and Alromo.
Apparently, the Sudanese authorities have backed away from deporting Tigrayans to Shagrab camp (an Eritrean refugee camp) in Kassala state, due to security precautions. Consequently, the authorities began preparing camps in Wad El Helio, in the state.
According to the director of the Hamdayet Center, the first transfer of refugees took place on 11 November to Shagrab camp, and included 235 refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.
According to military sources in Hamdayt, there are fears that former fighters of the Tigray Front who fought the war against the former Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam, likely crossed the border with refugees.
The same sources confirm that among the arrivals, activists in the Tigray Front will be wanted, along with former fighters in the front, by the federal authorities in Ethiopia, if they impose their control over the Tigray region.
A large part of the Ethiopian refugees are avoiding registering or moving to the residence camps in the depth of the state of Gedaref, waiting for their escape to Sudanese cities through local smugglers, which the Sudanese authorities have begun to pursue.
And security concerns are increasing following press reports that the Ethiopian Prime Minister spoke of the end of a deadline for the rulers of Tigraya, and the start of a military operation that includes air strikes.
In light of all these security concerns, military coordination between the armies of the two countries appears to be present from the reality of the proximity of the border points separating the two countries, as well as the strengthening of the Sudanese army deployment along the Ethiopian border.
Talk of numbers
The Hamadayat reception center suffers – according to its director, Yaqoub – from an acute shortage of shelter materials and food, especially since its capacity does not exceed 300 refugees, while it is now accommodating 20 thousand registered refugees until Friday evening, in addition to 4 thousand waiting.
As of Friday evening, the Hamdayat Center administration was only able to deport 6,247 refugees to Umm Rakuba camp, due to logistical difficulties related to transportation.
Although Hamdayat is the official crossing for refugees, 90% of them – according to Yaqoub – crossed the State River at Majerot, and then arrived at Hamdayat.
Yaqoub notes that the flow of Tigrayans due to the war began before the federal army targeted the city of Hamra, the capital of the western province of Tigray, which is 21 km from the borders of Sudan.
He adds that they received the first group of refugees on November 7, and it was not more than 54 before the daily refugee rates increased, as the Hamdayt Center on Friday alone received about a thousand refugees. To the south of Hamdayt, thousands of Ethiopian refugees crossed the State River into the Hashaba region of Sudan.
According to a bulletin from the head of the Emergency Committee in Gedaref, entitled: To the Refugee Commission, the number of Ethiopian refugees reached 35,851 refugees as of Friday evening.
In the event that Ethiopia’s war in the Tigray region continues and the battle fronts widen, Sudan – which is suffering economically – will be exposed to a huge refugee wave, as happened in the 1970s and 1980s, in light of the weakness and slow response of the international community.